Kaka the face of FIFA 11 – How important is cover art Train2Game?

Brazilian superstar Kaka will be the worldwide cover star of FIFA 11, while Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney also appears on the UK packaging. It’s the sixth year in a row the England forward has been FIFA’s man on the box.

However, it’s Real Madrid’s Kaka who’ll be EA’s centre-piece of global advertising, with the midfielder joining 16 other footballers in regional specific packaging. Kaka says he’s pleased to be joining other illustrious footballing superstars who’ve featured on previous FIFA front covers.

“I’ve always been a fan of EA SPORTS and especially the FIFA series.”

“Being on the FIFA 11 cover is a great honour for me since very few players have this opportunity, and there have been some great footballers featured on the cover of this truly amazing football game.”

“Reinvention of player authenticity”  is boasted as FIFA 11’s main new feature. The idea being that players will react more realistically like their real life counterparts with, for example, skilful midfielders touching the ball more often than centre backs when dribbling the ball.

It’ll also introduces new Pro Passing where pass accuracy is determined by a gamers’ ability on the control pad, and player skill, situation and urgency on the pitch.

FIFA 11 is released in the UK on October 1st.

So, Train2Game what do you think of the FIFA 11 box art? Do you think someone else should have been on it? How important do you believe a cover illustration is when trying to promote games?

Have you thought about packaging for your games yet, and if so, how many times have you decided to change it?

As usual, leave your comments here, or discuss it on the Train2Game forum.

Interesting research into game facial animations

Emotions in games: More sophisticated than this.

Research by the University of Abertay into facial expressions could hold the key to making computer game characters with more realistic facial animations and emotions.

Robin Sloan, a PhD student and lecturer based in the University’s Institute of Arts, Media and Computer Games, has devised a set of rules that could help portray a more convincing facial animations and emotions. These rules will no doubt be very useful to Train2Game students, especially the Artist & Animators!

(Game Designers and Game Developers: you can read on, or watch the impressive F1 2010 Developer Diary that was pointed out yesterday)

The study involved a series of experiments examining how the upper and lower regions of the face move during expressions including happiness, surprise and anger.

The aim was to make every stage of the choreography as believable as possible. Actors were used in order to study realistic expressions induced by genuine emotions.

It was found that for sadness to look real, it needs to lead from the upper face with, the furrowing of the brow and lowering of the eyes should occurring before the mouth corners turn downward. If this expression unfolds the other way round, the study found it looked childlike or faked. (I’ve found the latter often occurs during Dragon Age: Origins, though the rest of the game is excellent!)

Similarly, for anger, initiating the expression with the upper face works best in practice with the lower face following thereafter – rather than gritting one’s teeth alone.

Choreography can also affect how clear the emotions are when observed by audiences, such as the gamer. For instance, disgust animations may look fairly authentic when the upper face leads, but the lowering of the brow can result in the expression being confusable with anger. In this case, leading with the lower face creates a more distinct disgust expression.

The team also studied emotional expression transitions, for example from happiness into sadness, or sadness into anger. Robin Sloan explains the findings:

“What we found in this second stage of the study was, for example with surprise into happiness, if the upper face moved before the lower face, this could result in an insincere happy expression which could be viewed as an exaggeration or, indeed, fake. This could be useful if animators deliberately wanted to create a fake smile, but would otherwise be unhelpful.

“On the other hand, when the lower face led the movement in this transition, the overall animation appeared much more believable. Likewise, for happiness into sadness, upper face leading seemed clear and credible, whereas leading with the lower face seemed childish or sarcastic, as if displaying an interpretation of sadness rather than genuinely portraying the emotion.”

He continued: “While much is known about the appearance and perception of emotional facial expressions, researchers and professionals still struggle to create perceptually believable animated characters. For example, films such as Polar Express and Beowulf are ‘performance-captured’ where the performance of human actors is transferred onto computer animated characters.

“However, the aesthetic results of this technique have not been fully embraced by the public, as it appears that audiences view the characters as fake and unrealistic. Indeed, we are often more likely to believe in characters from more traditional animation films such as Toy Story or Shrek – animations which are carefully crafted by teams of animators.

“While the computer animation research community is quite rightly interested in the technical possibilities of performance capture, we wanted to highlight the fact that traditional animation can still play an important role in research, and to show that an artistic approach to animation can yield tangible research findings. We feel that our research could, for instance, have implications for the development of believable computer game characters, as an understanding of what makes for believable facial expression animation can boost their credibility.”

Mr Sloan hopes that the results could be useful for Games Designers, Game Developers and Games Animators – like Train2Game students – seeking to create more believable and, more interactive characters.

The research was published in the Journal of Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds.

So, Train2Game universe,  what do you think of the study? How much have you thought about how animation works in your games? And what research do you do before animating characters?

As usual, leave your comments here or on the Train2Game forum.